TORONTO â€” The 2017 CFL draft can’t come fast enough for Dariusz Bladek.
The six-foot-four, 306-pound Bethune-Cookman University offensive lineman is expected to be an early pick Sunday night. When Bladek’s name is called, it’ll cap a long, often frustrating journey to a pro football career in Canada.
“It has been a long time coming,” Bladek, 23, said via telephone from Florida. “I’m excited about it . . . This is what I’ve been dreaming about, thinking about every hour, every minute.
“Any team that believes enough in me to select me is going to get my full-fledged dedication. No matter what pick that is, I’ll be seen as a priority and that means a lot . . . whenever you’re made a priority, that’s a really good sign.”
Winnipeg has three of the opening 15 picks, including the first- and sixth-overall selections. After Saskatchewan goes at No. 2, B.C. will make the first of its two first-round choices at No. 3 before following Hamilton, Edmonton and Blue Bombers at No. 7.
Calgary and Grey Cup-champion Ottawa complete the round.
Becoming draft eligible really tested Bladek’s patience and perseverance.
Bladek was born in Florida to a Canadian mother. He divulged his roots during a conversation with the Stampeders, prompting them to say if Bladek acquired dual citizenship he could play in Canada as a national.
Americans play in the CFL but clubs covet Canadian offensive linemen. Many start at least three and some of the top performers earn over $200,000 annually.
Bladek skipped his senior college season for the ’16 NFL draft. After being bypassed, he attended the Baltimore Ravens mini-camp but didn’t receive a contract so Bladek began the dual citizenship process.
However it was a lengthy affair, resulting in Bladek missing both the 2016 CFL draft and supplemental draft. The paperwork was finally completed in time for Bladek to participate in the league’s combine in Regina in March.
Bladek performed well enough there to finish 10th on the CFL scouting bureau’s final top-20 prospects list last month for the ’17 draft, an improvement of five spots.
“At first, I was like, ‘I’m going to get back into ball, this will be great,'” Bladek said. “But when everything hit the fan, I needed at least a week to calm down, I was very emotional.
“I just had to trust the people around me and understand my situation wasn’t normal. Fortunately, I was raised by a wonderful father who works his behind off all the time in his business and that trickled down to me to where if this was what I had to do to prove this is what I wanted . . . then I was going to do everything I could to be ready when it happened.”
Bladek certainly kept busy. He worked full-time with his father, Bogdan, renovating restaurants while coaching football at Poinciana High School in Kissimmee, Fla., and working out.
While the year away from football was difficult, Bladek drew inspiration from his father.
“My dad came from Poland at age 18,” Bladek said. “He doesn’t have a degree but he’s worked long and as hard as he could to perfect his craft.
“I feel if my dad can (persevere and succeed) there’s no reason why I can’t. When I work with him sometimes I ask, ‘How do you do it?’ But then he asks how do I play football or take the hits? You’ve got to love it.”
One adjustment Bladek faces in Canada is dealing with defensive linemen coming at him a yard off the ball.
“That’s really different with the timing of my punch,” he said. “But it’s something I’ll get and am looking forward to learning.”
Bladek is also anxious to become more than just a football player with his new team.
“One thing I mentioned in my interviews (during CFL combine) was one of the main purposes of becoming a national . . . was I wanted to make sure the communities with these amazing nine teams know when I get drafted, I’ll be a part of the community,” he said. “I can make a place my home and not only visit for work.
“One day I’ll hopefully have a wife and family in Canada with me and they can embrace the same thing I see.”
Bladek said the year off has helped him physically but he doesn’t see being overly rusty upon donning the pads.
“The time off has given my body some real good recovery,” he said. “You can train as hard as you want but there’s a difference between training and going up against a guy and playing 60-70 plays in a game and having the endurance to last.”
Something Bladek will bring to Canada is his passion for hockey. Growing up in New Jersey, he became a Devils fan and savoured multiple Stanley Cups during GM Lou Lamoriello’s tenure.
With Lamoriello now in Toronto, Bladek rooted for the Leafs during their opening round playoff loss to Washington.
“He (Lamoriello) did a great job for us, I was upset Toronto didn’t win,” he said. “Could you imagine if the Raptors and Leafs both won their first-round series?
“It would’ve been crazy there.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press